Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer on Tuesday that his country would retaliate for the U.S. strike that killed a top Iranian general, but he said that “unlike Trump” has threatened to do, the Islamic Republic will respond in a proportionate manner “against legitimate targets.”
Zarif would not tell Palmer what Iran’s leaders consider legitimate targets, nor when Iran would launch its retaliation.
“The international law of war is very clear about legitimate targets,” he insisted.
The U.S.-educated diplomat blasted the Trump administration as “a regime that has no respect for international law, threatens to commit war crimes — attacking cultural sites.”
It was a reaction to Mr. Trump’s threat over the weekend to attack 52 sites identified as targets inside Iran should the country retaliate for the U.S. airstrike that killed Major General Qassem Soleimani on Friday. Mr. Trump has insisted that the U.S. would be within its rights to strike “cultural sites” in Iran.
Palmer pressed Zarif to clarify whether Iran’s response would be carried out by the Islamic Republic’s military, or by its many allied proxy forces across the Middle East, such as the Hezbollah militant group based in Lebanon, or the Shiite militias it backs in Iraq. The foreign minister denied that Iran has control over such groups, and said whatever retaliation they might seek would be separate and apart from Tehran’s own.
“We do not have proxies. You must have seen in the streets of Iraq that we have people, not proxies. Those people are not controlled by us because they’re not our proxies. They’re people with emotions, independent thinking, and that is why I said, what they will do is not controllable by Iran.”
Zarif said the U.S. killing of Soleimani was “an act of war done in a terrorist, cowardly operation, and Iran will take an appropriate response… Action by the U.S. has consequences that will happen, and I believe it has already started.”
He pointed to the Iraqi parliament’s work on legislation that would force American troops to withdraw from the country as evidence of the first consequence of Mr. Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy on Iran: ‘Maximum pressure is dead, as is the U.S. presence in our region.”
President Trump has repeatedly warned that any further Iranian action that kills Americans would be met with a firm response, including strikes inside Iran against the targets his administration has identified.